SUDAN: President's arrest warrant may affect plans

In a bid to promote a knowledge-based economy and enhance Africa's scientific capabilities, Sudan - the largest country in Africa - is planning to launch several initiatives in science and technology and in higher education. But the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Sudan's president could mean these projects may not even begin.

Akadiri Yessoufou, a researcher at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin said the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court on 4 March, accusing Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of atrocities committed in Darfur, might hamper Sudanese science development initiatives.

Similarly, Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a researcher at Cairo's National Research Centre, said the ICC warrant was generating "heat" and affecting Sudan's higher education institutions at the national and regional levels.

Earlier this month, the Arab universities association denounced the ICC decision at its annual general conference held in Kuwait. Last week, there were clashes between supporters of the ICC move and Sudanese paramilitary troops at the southern Kordofan-based Deling University while student demonstrations against the ICC move occurred at other institutions.

"Although the Sudanese government said it will continue on the development path, it remains to be seen whether Sudan will continue following the science and technology higher education development road or will be dragged into the destructive road," Abdelhamid said.

The planned initiatives include a science and technology city, an "electronic city", two science teacher training institutes and an agricultural technology centre, as well as a centre for combating malaria. The S&T city aims to provide an 'incubator' for the country in areas of enterprise creation.

It will focus on technology commercialisation and knowledge transfer in information and communication technologies, biotechnology, nanotechnology, transportation, health, energy and environment, in cooperation with universities and colleges based in Khartoum.

The city will also help build strong ties with sources of knowledge such as universities and research institutions, or large technology-based firms, as well as promoting spin-off enterprises by university staff and promoting the flow of knowledge and technology between academia and business.

Located on 500 hectares along the White Nile at a site 20 kilometres from Khartoum, the city will host research and development activities across different economic sectors. These include high-tech laboratories for agricultural and medical research, material sciences and electronics and experimental field stations.

Eltayeb Mohamed Abdelgadir, a researcher at the Sudan-based Agricultural Research Corporation, welcomed the new development, telling University World News: "Sudan is in urgent need for such a city to strengthen its scientific capability."

Although Sudan has more than 60 universities and colleges, private and public - most working in applied sciences and-or engineering - the number of researchers and scientific publications in the country is low compared with international levels.

Abdelgadir said that while the international standard rate was 70-80 researchers for every 10,000 people and two research publications for each researcher, in Sudan the rate was 0.2 researchers for every 10,000 people and 0.03 publications for each researcher. He pointed out that Sudan was cooperating with India, China and Japan to strengthen its scientific research and higher education capacity.

Sudan is working with India to establish a US$125 million electronic city on nearly 300 hectares at Soba city a few kilometres from the centre of Khartoum. It will act as a catalyst for developing ICTs by facilitating technology transfer, promoting innovation and upgrading and developing manpower skills. Under the Sudan-China cooperation plan, China will establish an agricultural technology centre and a centre for combating malaria in Sudan.

Abdelgadir added that Japan had agreed to offer $8.7 million to set up two science teacher training institutes in southern Sudan to strengthen the quality of science teachers, their teaching methods and education infrastructure.

Located in Juba and Aweil, two key cities in southern Sudan, where a decades-long civil war decimated the science education system, the institutes will serve as centres of national excellence in mathematics and science, providing training for hundreds of teachers in the next three years.

In a bid to promote socio-economic development in Jonglei, a state in southern Sudan, the Dr John Garang Institute of Science and Technology was opened last September. It aims to produce skills needed to support future utilisation of the vast natural resources available in Jonglei by awarding qualifications in forestry and public gardens, pharmaceutical technology and ecological security. These will be accredited by the International University of Moldovia, Chisinou, and based on European Union standards.

Mamadou Goita, special advisor to the director-general of the Mali-based Rural Economy Institute, told University World News the planned science and technology city would promote a knowledge-based economy in Sudan and would also have an impact on African development as the number of science and technology cities, parks and incubators on the African continent was small.

Although Africa is home to more than 15% of the world's population, it produces less than 1.5% of the world's scientific knowledge and even fewer of the world's patents, Goita said. He called for establishment of an African network of science parks to respond to major challenges facing the continent such as poverty, environmental degradation, food and energy security, health care, climate change and wealth creation.